Friday, September 30, 2016

One Way To Claim You Won

Since it’s pretty obvious to all the rest of us that Donald Trump lost the first debate by being unprepared and shooting from the lip, the only way to say he really won is by claiming that the whole thing was rigged against him anyway.  The consensus among other five-year-olds is that he’s right.

Trust me, the “rigged” claim will be heard loud and clear after the election should he lose, and he will go on claiming it until the very bitter end.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Another Aleppo Moment

Gary Johnson flunks a basic test.

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson struggled to name a single foreign leader when asked who his favorite diplomat was during an MSNBC town hall Wednesday night.

“Any one of the continents, any country. Name one foreign leader that your respect and look up to. Anybody,” host Chris Matthews pushed during the event, causing Johnson to sigh loudly as his VP pick Bill Weld tried to jump in.

“I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment,” Johnson finally said, referring to his recent gaffe on “Morning Joe” when he asked “What is Aleppo?” after he was questioned about how he would handle the conflict in the Syrian city.

With an assist from Weld, Johnson finally landed on Vicente Fox, who served as Mexico’s president from 2000 to 2006: “He was terrific.”

Hey, at least he didn’t blame his microphone.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Oh, Grow Up

Donald Trump blames his piss-poor debate performance on everything but himself.

Whiny BabyDonald J. Trump lashed out on Tuesday in the aftermath of a disappointing first debate with Hillary Clinton, scolding the moderator, criticizing a beauty pageant winner for her physique and raising the prospect of an all-out attack on Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities in the final stretch of the campaign.

Having worked assiduously in recent weeks to cultivate a more disciplined demeanor on the campaign trail, Mr. Trump cast aside that approach on Tuesday morning. As Mrs. Clinton embarked on an ebullient campaign swing through North Carolina, aiming to press her newfound advantage, Mr. Trump vented his grievances in full public view.

Sounding weary and impatient as he called into a Fox News program, Mr. Trump criticized Lester Holt, the NBC News anchor, for asking “unfair questions” during the debate Monday evening, and speculated that someone might have tampered with his microphone. Mr. Trump repeated his charge that Mrs. Clinton lacked the “stamina” to be president, a claim critics have described as sexist, and suggested that in the future he might raise Mr. Clinton’s past indiscretions.

The fact that he’s close in the polls baffles me; how can 40% of the electorate think that he has the maturity to run anything more consequential than a lemonade stand?

Bonus Track: Frank Bruni on duplicitous technology:

Go ahead and laugh at Donald Trump’s claims that he was foiled by a finicky microphone on Monday night, but I can relate. When I write a bad column, it’s all my keyboard’s fault.

The other columnists have reliable keyboards. I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy, but they do. Reach your own conclusions. When one of them taps out a beautiful sentence, a beautiful sentence appears on the computer screen, just the way it’s supposed to.

When I try to tap out an even more beautiful sentence — and my sentences are amazing sentences; you can’t believe these sentences — I have to press and bang and hunch closer to the desk and bang even harder and still you never know.

Heh.

The Woman Card

Larry Womack in Huffington Post on the real reason a lot of people don’t like Hillary Clinton.  [Spoiler alert: it’s bullshit.]

It’s time to stop pretending that this is about substance. This is about an eagerness to believe that a woman who seeks power will say or do anything to get it. This is about a Lady MacBeth stereotype that, frankly, should never have existed in the first place. This is about the one thing no one wants to admit it’s about.

Consider, for a moment, two people. One, as a young woman at the beginning of a promising legal career, went door to door searching for ways to guarantee an education to the countless disabled and disadvantaged children who had fallen through the cracks. The other, as a young millionaire, exacted revenge on his recently deceased brother’s family by cutting off the medical insurance desperately needed by his nephew’s newborn son, who at eighteen months of age was suffering from violent seizures brought on by a rare neurological disorder.

What kind of a society treats these two people as equal in any way? What kind of society even considers the latter over the former for its highest office?

Generations from now, people will shake their heads at this moment in time, when the first female major party presidential nominee—competent, qualified and more thoroughly vetted than any non-incumbent candidate in history—endured the humiliation of being likened to such an obvious grifter, ignoramus and hate monger.

We deserve the shame that we will bear.

The majority of people in this country are women.  They live longer than men.  They often times are raising families on their own.  Why do I even have to post an article like this?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

And The Winner Is…

I have been scrolling through my feeds and looking at various sites all over the web and I have yet to come across anyone who wasn’t either a paid shill for Mr. Trump or using chemical enhancements who says anything other than Hillary Clinton cleaned Donald Trump’s clock.

The contrast between the two was startling even if you cringed at the idea of anyone going up against that unpredictable and chaotic mess that the Republicans have nominated.  And what, pray tell, was all that sniffing and snorting from the left side of the stage?

2016debate-pic-09-27-16

Okay, maybe that explains it.

I was nervous going into the event — and that’s what you’d have to call it — but in the end it was fascinating to watch even if you were totally skeptical about either candidate being able to provide serious responses to the questions.  This was not the forum for new thoughts and I expected to hear the stump speech snippets and anecdotes that we got last night.  But given that most of the country has probably tuned out the campaign since the end of the primaries and have not heard them, it was startling to see how quickly Donald Trump went from calm and measured respondent to ranting spouter of word salad and disjointed flailing so quickly.  NASA should bottle it and use it to send probes to Mars; we’d be there in twenty minutes.

James Fallows at The Atlantic wraps it up.

Donald Trump rose to every little bit of bait, and fell into every trap, that Hillary Clinton set for him. And she, in stark contrast to him, made (almost) every point she could have hoped to make, and carried herself in full awareness that she was on high-def split-screen every second. He was constantly mugging, grimacing, rolling his eyes—and sniffing. She looked alternately attentive and amused.

If you were applying the famous “How does this look with the sound turned off?” test, you would see a red-faced and angry man, and a generally calm-looking woman. Hillary Clinton’s most impressive performance-under-public-attack so far had been the 11-hour Benghazi Commission hearings. This was another 90 minutes more or less in the same vein.

[…]

I don’t expect that this evening will change the minds of any of his committed supporters. But they have topped off at around 40 percent of the electorate. The question is the effect it will have on undecideds in a handful of crucial states. Especially undecided women (seeing Trump constantly interrupt Clinton while she was talking, and end up challenging her “stamina”), non-whites (hearing his praise for stop-and-frisk), and environmentally conscious younger and older people (hearing him say, falsely, that he had never said that climate change was a hoax engineered by the Chinese). We’ll see.

I’m not a betting man, but I’m sure there are those taking odds that Donald Trump will find some reason for backing out of the next two debates.  Just a hunch.

H/T to Balloon Juice for the photo.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Word You’re Looking For

The press — or at least some of the mainstream outlets — have come to the obvious conclusion that the truth is not with Donald Trump.

This weekend the New York Times posted “A Week of Whoppers from Donald Trump,” and we’re not talking Burger King:

All politicians bend the truth to fit their purposes, including Hillary Clinton. But Donald J. Trump has unleashed a blizzard of falsehoods, exaggerations and outright lies in the general election, peppering his speeches, interviews and Twitter posts with untruths so frequent that they can seem flighty or random — even compulsive.

However, a closer examination, over the course of a week, revealed an unmistakable pattern: Virtually all of Mr. Trump’s falsehoods directly bolstered a powerful and self-aggrandizing narrative depicting him as a heroic savior for a nation menaced from every direction. Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist, described the practice as creating “an unreality bubble that he surrounds himself with.”

The New York Times closely tracked Mr. Trump’s public statements from Sept. 15-21, and assembled a list of his 31 biggest whoppers, many of them uttered repeatedly. This total excludes dozens more: Untruths that appeared to be mere hyperbole or humor, or delivered purely for effect, or what could generously be called rounding errors. Mr. Trump’s campaign, which dismissed this compilation as “silly,” offered responses on every point, but in none of the following instances did the responses support his assertions.

It’s behind a paywall, but you get the idea: he lies about everything.

The Washington Post did the same thing: a week’s worth of “dubious statements in an ‘alternative universe.'”

An examination by The Washington Post of one week of Trump’s speeches, tweets and interviews shows a candidate who not only continues to rely heavily on thinly sourced or entirely unsubstantiated claims but also uses them to paint a strikingly bleak portrait of an impoverished America, overrun by illegal immigrants, criminals and terrorists — all designed to set up his theme that he is specially suited to “make America great again.”

African American communities, he said, are in the worst shape they have “ever, ever, ever” been — notwithstanding the days of slavery and Jim Crow. The U.S. military is “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.” Terrorists are winning, and the United States is losing, he said, because “all of these young people in our country and other countries are looking up to” the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Trump is expected to employ this approach, in both style and substance, at the first debate between the two major-party candidates on Monday night. Expecting that the moderator, Lester Holt of NBC News, will serve as a real-time fact-checker during the debate, Trump has repeatedly said that Holt should not do so. (Trump initially criticized Holt, saying: “Lester is a Democrat. It’s a phony system.” But after reports surfaced that Holt has registered Republican, Trump said he thought the moderator would be fair.)

Trump’s tactics, and his disregard for the truth in numerous cases, drove his primary opponents to fits earlier this year and last. An exasperated Jeb Bush said Trump was creating an “alternative universe.”

Add to this roster the Los Angeles Times and Politico, both with exhaustive lists of Mr. Trump’s wild ride.

Notice, however, that all of the publications are careful to avoid the words “lie,” “lying,” or “liar.”  Perhaps their legal department cautioned them that using those words would subject them to possible legal action, so they went with “false” and “falsehoods,” probably because “factually challenged” was too many syllables.  But anyone older than the age of four knows that when you intentionally say something that you know is false and do it for the purpose of misleading or evading the truth or the facts, it’s a lie.  In court under oath it’s called perjury, and it’s a felony.

I get why the mainstream media has been reluctant thus far to call out Mr. Trump and his minions for their breathtaking leave-taking of the truth and reality and their propensity for exaggeration and bullshit.  As I’ve discussed before, it’s out of a sense of presenting the election as some kind of balanced contest between two candidates of two major parties, both given the benefit of the doubt that they are somehow equal in stature and that at some point they will stretch the truth.  The given is that “All politicians lie.”  Well, no shit, Sherlock.  So do most people regardless of their station or occupation.  But in this current cycle, Mr. Trump has raised it to a high art; his like shall not pass this way again — we hope — for a long, long time.  So the obligation of journalism must therefore take it upon themselves to do more than just report the facts with some kind of imaginary illusion of objectivity and report the undisputed truth about the lying.

The second reason is that the journalists may have some fear that if they actually call out Mr. Trump and his Republican enablers, they may lose precious connections or sources within the party and the halls of government.  They will be hampered in doing their job if they can’t pick up the phone and call their version of Deep Throat.  But that’s the risk all journalists take and I think they need to calculate the risk against the chance that if they allow Mr. Trump’s juggernaut to roll on unhinged and unhindered, there may be more at stake than a free lunch with their inside source.  And they may have to actually get out there and do some real reporting instead of retweeting.

The saving grace of this watershed reporting is that it is happening in September.  If these were published on October 26, it would be way too late; early voting has already started.  And now that the ball is rolling, perhaps other publications and outlets will pick up on it instead of leaving it to fringe bloggers and their mom’s e-mails.

H/T to Steve Benen.

You Can’t Handle The Truth

Janet Brown, head of the Commission on Presidential Debates doesn’t want the fact-checkers to get in the way of a good show.

“What is a big fact, what is a little fact?” she said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica.”

That goes right along with what the Trump campaign has been saying the whole time:

Hours after the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times published separate stories outlining the lies Donald Trump has told during his presidential campaign, Trump’s campaign spokesperson told ABC’s “This Week” that it isn’t the media’s job to factcheck the presidential debate.

“I really don’t appreciate the campaigns thinking it is the job of the media to go and be these virtual fact-checkers,” Kellyanne Conway said, in an apparent attempted jab at the Clinton campaign. She also opposed debate moderators questioning the candidates’ truthfulness in any way.

And so far the media has been doing a bang-up job of saying they’re going to be complicit in this and dutifully report everything they say as The Truth, so help them Nielsen.  Otherwise they might be denied access or roughed up at a rally.  (Maybe the reporters can blend in by wearing brown shirts.)

No, the job of the media is to suck up to the candidates — as long as they’re not Hillary Clinton because everyone knows she’s the biggest liar of the two.  Actually, she’s not, but that’s a fact-check and so it doesn’t count.

lie-chart-09-26-16And that’s the truth.

Debate Prep

I will probably watch tonight’s presidential debate.  I have no idea who will win, but I think the prognosticators, tea-leaf readers, and the Very Serious Pundit corps will say that Donald Trump will win if he shows up and doesn’t step on a rake or go off like a Nuremberg rally.  Hillary Clinton has the tougher job in that she has to deliver a message over the heads of both her opponent and the chattering commentariat waiting to pounce.

I’m not a strategist so I’m not going to offer any advice, but I think Greg Sargent is on the right track.

Clinton can win if she displays more knowledge and competence than Trump, and if she shows that she takes the debates more seriously than Trump does — while simultaneously taking steps herself to remind the audience of Trump’s erratic judgment and temperament and track record of bigotry, hate speech and all-around abusiveness.

[…]

Indeed, allow me to suggest one possible way all this might go. Serious, Sedate Trump appears on Monday night, and manages to remain present throughout. Commentators gush about how he “defied expectations.” Meanwhile, Clinton gets a message out to the voters that she is nonetheless far more prepared for the presidency than Trump is, while simultaneously reminding them herself in some detail about the Unhinged Trump they already know so well. Commentators don’t register that happening, or at least give it short shrift amid their zeal to declare that Trump cleared the bar that they themselves set at floor-level for him. But the voters do register it.

I’m not necessarily predicting a uniformly winning performance from Clinton. She’ll struggle under tough questioning about her emails, the Clinton Foundation, and so forth. No doubt many Dems are also hoping Clinton takes major steps to make herself more likeable, and it’s anyone’s guess whether she’ll succeed at that. I’m simply suggesting that, whatever the commentariat concludes about the outcome, the public’s ultimate verdict on it will not hinge on whether Trump manages to “defy expectations” by avoiding efforts to bait him into being unhinged, or by meeting an arbitrary pundit-generated minimal standard of knowledge and seriousness.

Oh, and if Donald Trump follows through with his middle-school spitball fight tactic of inviting Gennifer Flowers, the woman Bill Clinton had an affair with some thirty years ago, to sit in the front row, I think it would be very nice if Ms. Clinton smiled and said, “Why, hello, Gennifer.  How’s tricks?”

White Privilege

You can’t find a better example of how the Trump campaign really views race relations in this country when you have Kellyanne Conway, the Trump campaign manager and epitome of white privilege, chiding the first African American president for not taking Donald Trump’s exaggerations and tokenism about the African American community as a serious attempt to make things better for them.

Everything the Trump campaign knows about the black experience they learned from their boxed set of “The Wire.”

Short Takes

Miami Marlins ace pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident.

Charlotte shooting videos released.

Floodwaters could swamp parts of northeast Iowa this week.

UN takes no action in Syria amid arguments over Aleppo.

Debate prep continues.

R.I.P. Arnold Palmer, 87, legendary golfer.

The Tigers split with KC this weekend; the wild card spot is fading away.

Tropical Update: Invest 97L develops.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sunday Reading

“It Has To Be Hillary Clinton” — It’s not really a surprise that the New York Times endorses Hillary Clinton, but when the Cincinnati Enquirer, the paper from the city that gave us William Howard Taft and hasn’t endorsed a Democrat in a very long time does it, that’s news.

Presidential elections should be about who’s the best candidate, not who’s the least flawed. Unfortunately, that’s not the case this year.

Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, the most unpopular pair of presidential candidates in American history, both have troubled relationships with truth and transparency. Trump, despite all of his bluster about wanting to “make America great again,” has exploited and expanded our internal divisions. Clinton’s arrogance and unwillingness to admit wrongdoing have made her a divisive and distrusted figure as well.

The Enquirer has supported Republicans for president for almost a century – a tradition this editorial board doesn’t take lightly. But this is not a traditional race, and these are not traditional times. Our country needs calm, thoughtful leadership to deal with the challenges we face at home and abroad. We need a leader who will bring out the best in all Americans, not the worst.

That’s why there is only one choice when we elect a president in November: Hillary Clinton.

Clinton is a known commodity with a proven track record of governing. As senator of New York, she earned respect in Congress by working across the aisle and crafting bills with conservative lawmakers. She helped 9/11 first responders get the care they needed after suffering health effects from their time at Ground Zero, and helped expand health care and family leave for military families. Clinton has spent more than 40 years fighting for women’s and children’s rights. As first lady, she unsuccessfully fought for universal health care but helped to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program that provides health care to more than 8 million kids today. She has been a proponent of closing the gender wage gap and has stood up for LGBT rights domestically and internationally, including advocating for marriage equality.

Trump is a clear and present danger to our country. He has no history of governance that should engender any confidence from voters. Trump has no foreign policy experience, and the fact that he doesn’t recognize it – instead insisting that, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do” – is even more troubling. His wild threats to blow Iranian ships out of the water if they make rude gestures at U.S. ships is just the type of reckless, cowboy diplomacy Americans should fear from a Trump presidency. Clinton has been criticized as being hawkish but has shown a measured approach to the world’s problems. Do we really want someone in charge of our military and nuclear codes who has an impulse control problem? The fact that so many top military and national security officials are not supporting Trump speaks volumes.

Clinton, meanwhile, was a competent secretary of state, with far stronger diplomatic skills than she gets credit for. Yes, mistakes were made in Benghazi, and it was tragic that four Americans lost their lives in the 2012 terror attacks on the U.S. consulate there. But the incident was never the diabolical conspiracy that Republicans wanted us to believe, and Clinton was absolved of blame after lengthy investigations. As the nation’s top diplomat, Clinton was well-traveled, visiting numerous countries and restoring U.S. influence internationally. She was part of President Barack Obama’s inner circle when the decision was made to go after and kill Osama bin Laden and negotiated U.N. sanctions that led to the Iran nuclear deal.

Her presidential campaign has been an inclusive one, reflected by the diversity of her supporters. She has even moved to the left on health care, expressing a willingness to consider Sen. Bernie Sanders’ single-payer “Medicare for all” health care plan. Clinton has talked about building bridges, not walls, and has a plan to keep immigrant families together with a path to citizenship.

We have our issues with Clinton. Her reluctance to acknowledge her poor judgment in using a private email server and mishandling classified information is troubling. So is her lack of transparency. We were critical of her 275-day streak without a press conference, which just ended this month. And she should have removed herself from or restructured the Clinton Foundation after allegations arose that foreign entities were trading monetary donations for political influence and special access.

But our reservations about Clinton pale in comparison to our fears about Trump.

This editorial board has been consistent in its criticism of his policies and temperament beginning with the Republican primary. We’ve condemned his childish insults; offensive remarks to women, Hispanics and African-Americans; and the way he has played on many Americans’ fears and prejudices to further himself politically. Trump brands himself as an outsider untainted by special interests, but we see a man utterly corrupted by self-interest. His narcissistic bid for the presidency is more about making himself great than America. Trump tears our country and many of its people down with his words so that he can build himself up. What else are we left to believe about a man who tells the American public that he alone can fix what ails us?

While Clinton has been relentlessly challenged about her honesty, Trump was the primary propagator of arguably the biggest lie of the past eight years: that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Trump has played fast and loose with the support of white supremacist groups. He has praised some of our country’s most dangerous enemies – see Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un and Saddam Hussein – while insulting a sitting president, our military generals, a Gold Star family and prisoners of war like Sen. John McCain. Of late, Trump has toned down his divisive rhetoric, sticking to carefully constructed scripts and teleprompters. But going two weeks without saying something misogynistic, racist or xenophobic is hardly a qualification for the most important job in the world. Why should anyone believe that a Trump presidency would look markedly different from his offensive, erratic, stance-shifting presidential campaign?

Some believe Trump’s business acumen would make him the better choice to move America’s slow recovery into a full stride. It’s true that he has created jobs, but he also has sent many overseas and left a trail of unpaid contractors in his wake. His refusal to release his tax returns draws into question both Trump’s true income and whether he is paying his fair share of taxes. Even if you consider Trump a successful businessman, running a government is not the same as being the CEO of a company. The United States cannot file bankruptcy to avoid paying its debts.

Trump’s rise through a crowded Republican primary field as well as Sanders’ impressive challenge on the Democratic side make clear that the American people yearn for a change in our current state of politics. However, our country needs to seek thoughtful change, not just change for the sake of change. Four years is plenty of time to do enough damage that it could take America years to recover from, if at all.

In these uncertain times, America needs a brave leader, not bravado. Real solutions, not paper-thin promises. A clear eye toward the future, not a cynical appeal to the good old days.

Hillary Clinton has her faults, certainly, but she has spent a lifetime working to improve the lives of Americans both inside and outside of Washington. It’s time to elect the first female U.S. president – not because she’s a woman, but because she’s hands-down the most qualified choice.

For comparison, Gary Johnson has garnered more newspaper endorsements than Donald Trump.

My Vote — Roger Angell of The New Yorker.

I am late weighing in on this election—late in more ways than one. Monday brought my ninety-sixth birthday, and, come November, I will be casting my nineteenth ballot in a Presidential election. My first came in 1944, when I voted for a fourth term for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, my Commander-in-Chief, with a mail-in ballot from the Central Pacific, where I was a sergeant in the Army Air Force. It was a thrilling moment for me, but not as significant as my vote on November 8th this year, the most important one of my lifetime. My country faces a danger unmatched in our history since the Cuban missile crisis, in 1962, or perhaps since 1943, when the Axis powers held most of Continental Europe, and Imperial Japan controlled the Pacific rim, from the Aleutians to the Solomon Islands, with the outcome of that war still unknown.

The first debate impends, and the odds that Donald Trump may be elected President appear to be narrowing. I will cast my own vote for Hillary Clinton with alacrity and confidence. From the beginning, her life has been devoted to public service and to improving the lives of children and the disadvantaged. She is intelligent, strong, profoundly informed, and extraordinarily experienced in the challenges and risks of our lurching, restlessly altering world and wholly committed to the global commonality. Her well-established connections to minorities may bring some better understanding of our urban and suburban police crisis. I have wished at times that she would be less impatient or distant when questions arrive about her past actions and mistakes, but I see no evidence to support the deep-rooted suspicions that often surround her. I don’t much like the high-level moneyed introductions and contacts surrounding the Clinton Foundation, but cannot find the slightest evidence that any of this has led to something much worse—that she or anyone has illegally profited or that any legislation tilted because of it. Nothing connects or makes sense; it beats me. Ms. Clinton will make a strong and resolute President—at last, a female leader of our own—and, in the end, perhaps a unifying one.

The Trump campaign has been like no other—a tumultuous and near-irresistible reality TV, in which Mr. Trump plays the pouty, despicable, but riveting central character. “I can’t stand him,” people are saying, “but you know, wow, he never stops.”

We know Mr. Trump’s early transgressions by heart: the female reporter who had “blood coming out of her whatever”; the mocking of a physically impaired reporter; the maligning of a judge because of his Mexican parents; the insulting dismissal of the grieving, Gold Star-parent Khans; the promised mass deportation of eleven million—or two million—undocumented immigrants, and more. Each of these remains a disqualifier for a candidate who will represent every one of us, should he win, but we now are almost willing to turn them into colorful little impairments. “Oh, that’s ol’ Donald—that’s the way he is.”

But I stick at a different moment—the lighthearted comment he made when, in early August, an admiring veteran presented him with a replica of his Purple Heart and Mr. Trump said, “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.” What? Mr. Trump is saying he wishes that he had joined the armed forces somehow (he had a chance but skimmed out, like so many others of his time) and then had died or been scarred or maimed in combat? This is the dream of a nine-year-old boy, and it impugns the five hundred thousand young Americans who have died in combat in my lifetime, and the many hundreds of thousands more whose lives were altered or shattered by their wounds of war.

I take this personally, representing as I do the last sliver of the sixteen million Americans who served in the military in my war. I had an easy time of it, and was never in combat, but, even so, as I have written, I experienced the loss of more than twenty close friends, classmates, and companions of my youth, who remain young and fresh in memory. I have named them in previous pieces, along with some wounded survivors, like my friend Gardner, an infantry captain who landed at Normandy Beach and fought at Hürtgen Forest and Aachen and the Battle of the Bulge, was twice wounded, had five Campaign stars, and received numerous decorations, including the French Croix de Guerre, but who for the rest of his life would fall into wary silence whenever a thunderstorm announced itself. Also my late brother-in-law Neil, who lay wounded on the field for two days during the battle of Belfort Gap, and who hobbled with a cane all his life, and with two canes near the end. Every American of my generation can supply stories like these, and once learned and tried to forget that, worldwide, seventy million people died in our war.

Mr. Trump was born in 1946, just after this cataclysmic event of our century, and came of age in the nineteen-sixties, when the implications and harshness of war were being debated as never before, but little or none of this seems to have penetrated for him—a candidate who wants to give nuclear arms to Japan and South Korea and wishes to remain unclear about his own inclinations as commander of our nuclear triad. This makes me deeply doubt his avowed concern for our veterans or that he has any sense of their sufferings.

Reservations like this are predictable coming from someone my age, but I will persist, hoping to catch the attention of a few much younger voters, and of those who have not yet made up their minds about this election. I do so by inviting them to share an everyday experience—the middle-of-the-night or caught-in-traffic moment when we find our hovering second thoughts still at hand and waiting: Why did I ever?… What if?… Now I can see… and come to that pause, the unwelcome reconsideration that quiets us and makes us mature. It’s the same thought that Judge Learned Hand wanted posted in every school and church and courthouse in the land: “I beseech ye … think that we may be mistaken.”

Mr. Trump has other drawbacks I haven’t mentioned: his weird fondness for Vladimir Putin; his destruction of the lives and hopes of small investors and contractors unlucky enough to have been involved in his business dealings; his bonkers five-year “birther” campaign, now withdrawn, though without accountability—but never mind all this, for now.

Mr. Trump is endlessly on record as someone who will not back down, who cannot appear to pause or lose. He is a man who must win, stay on the attack, and who thinks, first and last, “How will I look?” This is central, and what comes after it, for me, at times, is concern for what it must be like for anyone who, facing an imperative as dark and unforgiving as this, finds only the narcissist’s mirror for reassurance.

If Donald Trump wins this election, his nights in the White House will very soon resemble those of President Obama. After he bids an early goodnight to his family, he sits alone while he receives and tries to take in floods of information from almost innumerable national and international sources, much of it classified or top secret. His surroundings are stately, but the room is shadowed and silent. There are bits of promising news here and there, but always more bloodshed, sudden alarms, and unexpected lurking dangers. The import of the news is often veiled or contradictory, or simply impenetrable. The night wears on, and may contain brief hours of sleep. There’s time to tweet. A new day is arriving, and with it the latest rush of bad news—another police shooting out West, another suicide bomber in Yemen, and other urgent briefings from a world already caught up in the morning’s difficult events. He needs to respond, but the beginning of this President’s response is always reliably at hand: How will I look?

Rapid Evolution — Menno Schilthuizen on the rapid pace of nature adapting to human civilization.

Amsterdam — A FRIEND recently invited me over to see the blackbird that had taken up residence in a potted plant on her balcony.

Serenely incubating eggs in the inner city, this bird had little in common with its shy, reclusive ancestors that nested in Europe’s forests. Early in the 19th century, probably in Germany, blackbirds began settling in cities. By the mid-20th century, they were hopping around on stoops all over Europe.

Many “wild” bird species — like the peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks and laughing gulls of New York — have set up camp in cities. But the thing about Europe’s urban blackbirds (a relative of the American robin, not to be confused with North American blackbirds, which belong to a different family) is that they are very different from their forest-dwelling relatives. They have stockier bills, sing at a higher pitch (high enough to be heard over the din of traffic), are less likely to migrate (in cities there’s food and warmth year-round), and have less nervous personalities.

For many of these differences, genes are responsible. The birds’ DNA, after 200 years or less of adaptation, has diverged from that of their rural ancestors.

For a long time, biologists thought evolution was a very, very slow process, too tardy to be observed in a human lifetime. But recently, we have come to understand that evolution can happen very quickly, as long as natural selection — the relative benefit that a particular characteristic bestows on its bearer — is strong.

And where else to find such strong natural selection than in the heart of a big city? The urban environment is about as extreme as it gets. Temperatures in the city center can be more than 10 degrees higher than in the surrounding countryside. Traffic causes continuous background noise, a mist of fine dust particles and barriers to movement for any animal that cannot fly or burrow. Much of the city is clad in impervious surfaces of stone, glass, steel and tarmac. There is pollution of soil, water and air, mainly human-derived food sources, and an especially motley crew of local and invasive flora and fauna.

With urban environments expanding all over the world, wildlife and biologists alike are starting to treat the city as a true ecosystem. Many species’ original habitats are being squeezed into annihilation. For them, it’s adapt or die. And field biologists like me are following suit. As we have to travel ever farther to find untouched wilderness, we are beginning to realize that the expanding urban sprawl is perhaps not something to be depressed about, but rather something very exciting, as entirely novel forms of life are evolving right under our noses.

A Fordham University biologist, Jason Munshi-South, studies the populations of white-footed mice marooned in New York City parks. These native mice once lived all over the place. But as the city expanded, they became confined to the small pockets of forest left behind in parks. Thus isolated, the mice in each park began evolving a park-specific genetic blueprint. In some parks, Dr. Munshi-South found mice carrying genes for heavy metal tolerance, probably because soils there are contaminated with lead or chromium. In other parks, the animals have genes for increased immune response — maybe diseases spread more easily in some high-density populations.

French biologists have been studying a daisylike weed called Crepis sancta, which normally produces two kinds of seeds: heavy ones that fall to the floor, and light seeds that drift in the wind for long distances. But in Montpellier, in southern France, C. sancta makes reduced numbers of the airborne seeds. Small wonder: The plants grow in pockets of soil on sidewalks, and any seeds that are carried on the wind are likely to land on concrete. The heavy seeds that land at the parent plant’s feet, on the other hand, are pretty certain to find a patch of fertile soil. So plants genetically predisposed to produce more heavy seeds have been favored by urban evolution.

THERE are more examples: Spiders in Vienna are evolving to build their webs near moth-attracting streetlights. In some cities, moths, in turn, are developing a resistance to the lure of light bulbs. Certain Puerto Rican city lizards are evolving feet that better grip urban surfaces like concrete. Some grass is adapting to the relentless regime of the lawn mower by acquiring a shorter stature.

The most exciting projects are perhaps no longer in faraway forests and canyons, but just there on our doorstep. We evolutionary biologists are trading our expedition gear for subway tickets and studying street grass and house mosquitoes instead of jungle orchids and mountain birds.

And we have millions of city dwellers to help us. Citizen science projects on urban ecology and evolution are springing up everywhere. This year, my students and I will introduce a smartphone app to measure how snail shells in hot inner cities in Europe and North America are evolving lighter colors to shield against overheating. Adeline Murthy of the University of New Mexico used the Christmas Bird Count, an annual census conducted by volunteers, to show that North American cities harbor an avifauna that is pretty much homogenized across the continent. At least 18 bird species are shared by all of them — something not the case in non-urban areas.

In fact, that Christmas data highlights one feature of urban nature that sets it apart from all other ecosystems: globalization. City-adapted wildlife is likely to hitch rides on human transportation and colonize other cities — at least within the same climate zone.

What’s more, as cities continue to grow, they will exchange more goods, people and information over greater distances. So each change in the environment (a particular pollutant, a certain novelty in road construction, a new kind of food source) will spread quickly across the world, and urban wildlife everywhere will be faced with the same novel challenge. Those that evolve adaptations will also easily spread to other cities, leading to a truly globalized urban flora and fauna — continually evolving at breakneck speed to keep up with an increasingly human-dominated world.

Back on my friend’s balcony, I peered through the branches at that nesting blackbird. She returned my stare with one glistening eye, as if to say: “Consider me your Darwin’s finch. And this city is my Galápagos.”

Doonesbury — Adding them up.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Soft Bigotry

Yesterday we were treated to the not-from-The Onion opinion of Kathy Miller, a rich white Trump supporter and the chair of the Mahoning County, Ohio, Trump campaign, who informed us that there was no racism in America until Barack Obama came along.  After that bit of news went viral, she promptly resigned but insisted all along that what she was wasn’t racist.

Then we heard from Gov. Mike Pence, Mr. Trump’s running mate, who told us that we need to “set aside” all this talk about institutional racism in light of the recent police shootings and move on.  At last word, Mr. Pence has not yet resigned his position with the campaign.

The takeaway from both of these arbiters of race relations in America is that we don’t have a race problem in this country and stop saying we do because it gets people upset.

But I have a question: which is worse?  Ms. Miller who insists that everything was just peachy until that outside agitator came along, or the silencing of the discussion about race relations between African Americans and other minorities and the police departments in a number of cities because, in his words, it’s the “rhetoric of division.”

Ms. Miller and people like her can be dealt with — and she was — with universal scorn, derision, and the prompt termination of their services.  Blatant racism like that doesn’t lend itself to nuance and there was no way anyone, even in the Trump organization, could polish that turd.  So yes, she’s odious, but she’s obvious.

Mr. Pence, on the other hand, speaks calmly, soothingly, and wants to bring everyone together as long as they don’t talk about what’s really happening.  I daresay that there will be some Very Serious Pundit sitting around a table on a cable chat show who will say, “Well, you know, he has a point.”

Actually, Mr. Pence’s racism is worse because it’s insidious.  It sounds reasonable, not like some rant in a parking lot from a blithering bigot.  But it takes any discussion of the problem off the table and leaves you with nothing other than nostrums about “thorough investigations” and “justice being served” as if in promising to actually follow the law is doing us all a generous favor.  Mr. Pence himself is the shining example of institutional racism.

Kneel Before Trump

Frontline on PBS will air a segment on September 27 that looks at the reason Donald Trump decided to run for president and when he decided to do it.

Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, who ever disagreed, who ever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.

It comes down to seeking revenge for being humiliated in public by a black man.

Let’s make sure that it happens again; this time by a woman.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In The Tank

If Hillary Clinton loses, blame the media.

Thomas Patterson in the Los Angeles Times:

My analysis of media coverage in the four weeks surrounding both parties’ national conventions found that her use of a private email server while secretary of State and other alleged scandal references accounted for 11% of Clinton’s news coverage in the top five television networks and six major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. Excluding neutral reports, 91% of the email-related news reports were negative in tone. Then, there were the references to her character and personal life, which accounted for 4% of the coverage; that was 92% negative.

While Trump declared open warfare on the mainstream media — and of late they have cautiously responded in kind — it has been Clinton who has suffered substantially more negative news coverage throughout nearly the whole campaign.

Few presidential candidates have been more fully prepared to assume the duties of the presidency than is Clinton. Yet, her many accomplishments as first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of State barely surfaced in the news coverage of her candidacy at any point in the campaign. She may as well as have spent those years baking cookies.

How about her foreign, defense, social or economic policies? Don’t bother looking. Not a single one of Clinton’s policy proposals accounted for even 1% of her convention-period coverage; collectively, her policy stands accounted for a mere 4% of it. But she might be thankful for that: News reports about her stances were 71% negative to 29% positive in tone. Trump was quoted more often about her policies than she was. Trump’s claim that Clinton “created ISIS,” for example, got more news attention than her announcement of how she would handle Islamic State.

I also looked at the year before the 2016 primaries began, and even then Clinton had a 2-to-1 ratio of bad press to good press. There was only one month in the whole of 2015 where the tone of her coverage on balance was not in the red — and even then it barely touched positive territory.

During the primaries, her coverage was again in negative territory and again less positive than Trump’s. After the conventions got underway and Trump got embroiled in a testy exchange with the parents of a slain Muslim U.S. soldier, the tone of his coverage nosedived and her coverage looked rosy by comparison. But even then it was not glowing. Her convention-period news coverage was 56% negative to 44% positive.

[…]

Judging from their stories, journalists rate the emails as being a highly important and very serious issue. They cover it heavily and with damning tone. When 90% or more of the coverage of a subject is negative, the verdict is in. Even good news gets turned to her disadvantage. For example, when the FBI announced that her emails did not violate the law, the Los Angeles Times ran a story focused on Trump’s response, quoting him as saying, “This is one of the most crooked politicians in history…. We have a rigged system, folks.”

In today’s hypercompetitive media environment, journalists find it difficult to resist controversies. Political scientist W. Lance Bennett explored this phenomenon around Trump’s 2011 allegation that President Obama was not a native-born American. Trump’s “birther” statements were seized upon by cable outlets and stayed in the headlines and on newscasts for days. Veteran CNN correspondent Candy Crowley even interviewed Trump, who was then not a political figure at all. She justified it by saying on air: “There comes a point where you can’t ignore something, not because it’s entertaining …. The question was, ‘Is he driving the conversation?’ And he was.” In truth, the news media were driving the conversation, as they have with Clinton’s emails.

Decades ago, the Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press concluded that reporters routinely fail to provide a “comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s events in the context that gives them some meaning.” Whatever else might be concluded about the coverage of Clinton’s emails, context has been largely missing. Some stories spelled out how the merging of private and official emails by government officials was common practice. There were also some, though fewer, that tried to assess the harm, if any, that resulted from her use of a private server. As for Clinton’s policy proposals and presidential qualifications, they’ve been completely lost in the glare of damaging headlines and sound bites.

So if we end up with a president who is vaingloriously proud of his ignorance and treats the Constitution like one of his contractors, it will be in large part because the media was far more interested in getting a story that boosted ratings so they could charge more for ads for boner pills.

Hillary Clinton Reaches Out To The Disabled

Good for her.  And all of us.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is pushing intensively to win over a group of voters who don’t typically get much attention during elections but who have become an increasingly potent political force: disabled people and their families.

With the race tighter than it was a month ago and Clinton struggling to generate enthusiasm within the Democratic base, her appeal to disabled people and their families comes amid a broader effort to win over voters. After weeks of mostly attacking Republican Donald Trump, she is highlighting specific policy prescriptions while trying to show a more compassionate side and present an affirmative vision for the country.

Clinton is also targeting Hispanics, women, caretakers of the elderly and sick, and families of gun-violence victims, among other constituencies focused on specific issues. In the case of the disability community, which cuts across all partisan and demographic divides, Clinton may be trying to attract not only ­Democratic-leaning voters who are not excited by her candidacy, but also voters who may be leaning toward Trump — notably disabled veterans.

One very visible piece of the effort came Wednesday in a policy speech here devoted to initiatives to more fully integrate those with disabilities into the nation’s economy. It is an issue, Clinton said, that “really goes to the heart of who we are as Americans.”

Speaking in a packed community-center gym in this presidential battleground state, Clinton pledged to fully support “a group of Americans who are, too often, invisible, overlooked and undervalued, who have so much to offer but are given too few chances to prove it.”

This is in sharp contrast with her opponent whose outreach to the disabled has so far been limited to mockery.

More Minority Outreach

Via the New York Times:

Donald J. Trump on Wednesday called for the broad use of the contentious stop-and-frisk policing strategy in America’s cities, embracing an aggressive tactic whose legality has been challenged and whose enforcement has been abandoned in New York.

His support for the polarizing crime-fighting policy — which involves officers’ questioning and searching pedestrians — collides with his highly visible courtship of African-Americans, who have been disproportionately singled out by the tactic, data show.

For Mr. Trump, the timing was especially inauspicious: It came as police shootings of black people were once again drawing scrutiny and protest.

It’s also been ruled as an unconstitutional breach of the Fourth Amendment, and racially discriminatory as well.

Y’know, I’ve been wondering why Mr. Trump hasn’t been gaining any traction with the African American voters…